Wean Earlier & Reap the Rewards this Season!

15th February 2018

Advice from Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Officer (Beef Cattle) – Jason Siddell

With dry seasonal conditions continuing, and above average temperatures forecast many cattle producers will be, and if not, should be developing management and marketing strategies to deal with potential water and feed shortages before they arise. 

Early weaning is a tool that can be considered by Northern Tablelands cattle producers this summer to enable them to better manage the fat score of their cows to maintain productivity for next year, i.e. calving and weaning percentages or ensuring cows that are in low body condition can improve prior to sale.

Many producers may have to reduce cattle numbers further due to water and feed shortages. A 600kg lactating cow requires 13.6kg of good quality hay (9.5 MJ/kg/DM) to maintain condition with no paddock feed available. Once you wean the calf off the cow and feed separately, the amount of feed required for maintenance drops (8kg of good quality hay for the 600kg cow and 3.5kg of good quality hay for a 200kg weaner). The health of both the cow and calf will also improve. 

Early weaning while the bulls are still in with the cows can also help to increase conception rates.  The stress of weaning a calf and stopping the suckling effect will trigger cattle in lower condition to start cycling. 

Producers who monitor and manage their cows to maintain fat scores of high 2 or more (a minimum of 5mm of fat on the rump) get more calves on the ground and achieve a more condensed calving pattern. Once cows fall below 5mm of fat on the rump they start to mobilise muscle tissue and fertility drops. The time taken for a cow to return to oestrus (or cycle) is determined by the fat score of the cow at calving.

One of the best ways to achieve higher conception rates and calving percentages in 2019 is to wean earlier in 2018, than you usually would (this may only be by a month or two). Weaning will reduce the protein and energy requirement of the cow and allow the cow to gain weight (grow muscle and deposit fat) prior to feed quality decline occurring in autumn and winter depending on your location.

Fat score of cows and the percentage cycling after calving


Fat Score at Calving

Days after calving, % on heat

50 days

70 days

90 days

1 – 2 (0-6mm P8)




3 – 4 (7-22mm P8)




4 – 5 (23mm + P8)




Early weaning is a very effective tool in reducing feed costs and managing the fat score of cows but be mindful that once these calves are weaned they either need to have access to good quality pasture/forage or continue to be fed a ration daily that includes roughage if limited or no paddock feed is available.

Remember you are running a business! 

So calculate how much your calves are worth prior to weaning, what they are worth after weaning given a few different scenarios and what weaning/feeding them will cost you. Then decide if you will make money from the exercise or whether you would have been better off selling them straight off the cow at current market prices prior to weaning. 

For more advice and information on beef cattle on the Northern Tablelands, contact Jason Siddell, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services Officer (beef Cattle) on 02 6730 1941, 0459 162 295 or jason.siddell@lls.nsw.gov.au.

Media contact: Annabelle Monie on 02 6720 8317, 0429 626 326 or annabelle.monie@lls.nsw.gov.au

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